We built Wavechat to allow everyone to make easy micro-podcasts for Stories. How did we get here?
@Dennis is a full-stack engineer and CTO. @Dave is a product person and CEO. Dave was employee 180 at Facebook, and was there through 2017. Dennis is a serial entrepreneur who built his first product at 15.
How we met
In the summer of 2018, we were both working in the offices of Combine.vc. Dennis was working at @tokendaily, while Dave was trying to figure out what he wanted to do next. We wound up sitting next to each other, and bonded over our love of music, tech, soccer, and crypto.
Pretty soon, Dennis was giving Dave feedback on his ideas about building tech in the audio space, and we started hacking together on the weekends.
Later that fall, Token Daily was pivoting its product, and Dennis decided he wanted to look for something new. Dave was ready to build something new as well, and Wavechat was born!
Deciding on an idea
Dave and Dennis are tech veterans — we’ve built dozens of products over the last decade+. We knew the importance of building, as opposed to simply talking about an idea.
We used three main points to decide on an idea:
- Is the idea something we’re interested in working on? If it’s not interesting, we wouldn’t devote ourselves to it. Motivation to overcome obstacles comes from within. Solving an interesting problem is the best motivation!
- Is the idea something we have familiarity with? Sure, you can do something completely out of your comfort zone — (We’d love to work on Quantum Computing!) but the lead time to actually building something is much, much longer.
- Is the market viable? An idea can be interesting and you can have deep familiarity with it, but if the number of people in the world willing to “pay” for the what you build isn’t big enough, it’s not a viable business.
We ultimately decided to build a social network for short audio clips. We were both extremely interested in the audio space, we have familiarity with audio and social networking. We also found the market to be not only huge but also extremely fractured!
We also decided to build it on the web in order to create something as quickly as possible, and got to work!
We launched Wavecut.io, a social network for people sharing short audio clips, on February 14, 2019. (Happy Valentine’s Day!) Our target market was people interested in music, who generally had short audio clips on their computers. We eventually hoped to expand to other segments, but started out in a space we both knew.
This was an important milestone for us as a team — we launched something together.
We began to understand each other’s work style, we got more comfortable with each other, and we trusted each other as someone we would want to start a company with.
Shutting down Wavecut.io
While we had some organic usage of Wavecut.io — one person even wrote us a personalized email telling us how much she loved the idea! — we discovered two main flaws in our thinking:
- It’s very hard for people to “create” on web. Anything that’s user-generated outside of text is done, for the most part, via phone. Using the microphone on a browser is a pretty bad experience 🥴
- The number of people who do have audio on their hard drives to share is a much smaller audience than people willing to use their voice to share. While it’s a strong community, it would be too hard to generate a coherent fabric of connection that would spark network effects.
So, we made the tough decision to shut down the website and pivot to an app.
Pivoting to the Wavecut app
Our solution to the above two issues: Build an app! (And make it fun 🤪)
We very much agree with Chris Dixon that the Next Big Thing Will Look Like a Toy. By building a simple, fun app as our minimum viable product we could do two things simultaneously:
- Lower the apprehension and confusion people have when trying a new type of tech (voice)
- Giving people a utility they already use and want (voice recording and creative expression tools) in a cleaner, faster package than incumbents.
Building the Wavecut app
We could write a whole series of blog posts on the actual building of the app, and all the decisions made, but we’ll try to keep it a bit higher level and not get too in to the weeds. We’ll highlight some key decisions below, but rest assured these were less than 1% of the decisions we had to work through.
- Solving the creation problem. We really like Mark Rabkin’s framing of “Don’t fear going too far” in his note Make the Other Mistake. We decided to do a complete 180 from our first product, and made the first screen a person sees be a “Tap to record button.” Also, it doesn’t hurt that Snapchat does the same thing :). When in doubt, copy someone or something that’s more successful than you!
- Saving as a video, and not as an audio file. This one was really tough. Were we “violating” our thesis that people wanted and needed voice/audio content if Wavecuts have a visual component? Ultimately, we decided no. A few reasons for this:
- Practicality. Sometimes, you’re forced to do something by outside forces, and that’s ok. You cannot share audio files on Snap, IG, FB, etc. right now.
- Fluidity. Our vision has always been for voice and audio to complement current means of creation, not replace it. Human expression exists on a spectrum, and so do Wavechats 😉
Deciding to build Wavechat
We saw solid engagement with our simple MVP, Wavecut, but the majority of people who downloaded the app used it only once every few days.
Based on the deep (but infrequent) engagement we saw, we knew we had an opportunity to create an app that had real stickiness, one that people would come back to over an over. To really create something that people would use every day, we decided we needed to build something social.
- Why Social? Isn’t that space saturated? We’re pretty sure the need for people to connect and share with others is almost limitless 😉.
- Why Social Voice? Every medium has been disrupted by social — Twitter for text, IG for photos, and Youtube for video — but Voice hasn’t (yet!)
- Why now? If it was gonna happen, wouldn’t it have happened already? Our hypothesis is that the hardware to disrupt Voice simply wasn’t mainstream — until now. With an Airpod in every ear, and an Alexa in every room, we’re excited about the future of Voice 😄
While the core of Wavechat remained the same as Wavecut, we knew there were a few key features we needed to add.
- A Profile. Similar to financial capital, there’s no use accumulating the social capital of sharing content (like Wavechats) if you can’t take ownership of it. A profile is the perfect mechanism ownership of Wavechats you share.
- Direct Messaging. The majority of communication both offline and online is meant to be private (or at least semi-private.) Without this backbone of communication, our app would be incomplete.
- Stories. When you create content, sometimes you want to share privately, and sometimes you want to distribute to a wider audience. We agree with Eugene Wei that “the Stories format is a genuine innovation on the social modesty problem of social networks.” Given the majority of adoption of new social spaces is from young people, we decided to build Stories over “Permanent” posts like on Instagram or Facebook.
We launched Wavechat for iOS on Thursday, November 21 2019. The classic problem for networks is the “Cold-Start” issue, where no one wants to join because no one has joined. Our approach to establish a deeply engaged network of users is:
- Partner closely with a community of our target demographic. Wavechat is based in SF, and we’re lucky to have a vibrant set of colleges close to us. We have partnered with SF State and their esports club, where they have committed to integrating Wavechat into their courses and e-sports events. This gives us a perfect testbed for understanding how to provide value!
- Be agnostic to the solution, but committed to providing value. We’re still early in our journey, and are aware our “solution” to providing value as a product might (probably will 😂) change a lot between now and Product-Market fit. That’s ok, and we’re excited for the journey!
What happens if Wavechat is incredibly successful, and we build the future we want?
We have some thoughts on what this might look like a few years from now, but no promises 😛
Help more creators create, and enable more connection through Voice.
Podcasts in their current format are SO 2019. Just as the format of videos has completely changed from TV>Youtube, we believe so will voice from Radio>Voice Social. We’re not sure exactly what it will look like, but expect it to be wildly different than anything that exists today!
Creating the sonic infrastructure and platform for AR/VR.
Virtual reality isn’t just a new gaming platform — it’s an entirely new set of experiences for humanity where all sensory inputs are controlled. Interacting with this space will be not just a visual and haptic experience, but will rely heavily on sounds and voice. Wavechat wants to help developers with tools to build these new sonic experiences.
We hold the position that “Augmented Reality” is a misnomer, as if there was some beginning point where reality happened to start being augmented. In truth, reality has been augmented since the initial usage of technology by humans — the blending of humans designing input in combination with dynamic, uncontrolled external inputs.
As more external inputs are available to humans, we need more ways to use our senses to make sense of the world. Wavechat wants to create a set of technologies that help people make sense of the world using the rich medium of audio and voice.
Emojis are an internet native common transcendent pictographic language. If you send someone a smiley face after “See ya there” they get a deeper understanding of the emotional insinuation of your text.
Similarly, we envision a common lexicon of audio — we’re coining them “Sonic emojis” — that you can send either alone or in combination with words, pictures, or haptic feedback to provide an even fuller understanding of a person’s emotions. At Wavechat, we want to help build this!